Under the big top of UCSB’s Campbell Hall, the 20th annual Reel Loud film festival—this year boasting a circus theme—will take place on Friday, May 27. Early festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the curtains will go up on the main show at 8 p.m.
To those unacquainted with the program, Reel Loud is a yearly festival where submitted student films must be silent, shot on 16mm celluloid film stock, have a running time of no more than seven minutes, and be coupled with a live act.
Nadia Ismail, the director of this year’s Reel Loud, expressed that she was so dazzled as a visitor to last year’s festival that it sparked her desire to become involved with Reel Loud 2011.
“Last year was the first Reel Loud I ever went to,” Ismail said. “I just wanted to check it out, and I was floored by the event. I thought, ‘Next year, I’m going to be involved.’ It had an effect on me and I wanted to induce that effect in others.”
The vintage “Greatest Show on Earth” circus feel of this year’s program highlights the quirk and charm of a silent film festival put on in 2011, a year where explosion-filled action films often top box office tallies.
“It invokes a certain level of nostalgia and novelty that is inherent in silent cinema,” Ismail said. “The circus theme combines these notions of novelty and antiquity. In terms of the acts, we have dancers, a rope twirler, and two bands with very different sounds that will bring a high-energy circus environment to this year’s show.”
For Ismail and her team, the film Moulin Rouge served as an inspiration for the look and feel of the show. “I really liked the tension between old and new, vintage and modern,” Ismail said. “Reel Loud is like that in many ways. It has these traditional, silent films, but interpreted through the lenses of these new filmmakers.”
As for the films themselves, Ismail said that viewing them made her all the more excited about the festival. “I was personally blown away” by the films, Ismail said. “They really pushed the envelope in terms of aesthetics and narrative.”
Sahar Vahedi, the producer of this year’s Reel Loud, noted that a great deal of effort—throughout the film department and beyond—goes into making the festival a reality. “There are around 100 people helping to put this together,” said Vahedi. “We are totally student-run, and we encourage not only film majors to work on films, but everyone.”
Helping to raise the funds necessary to put on such a large production was a challenge for the student-run program. “The show is a huge cost, mainly because film equipment is very expensive,” said Vahedi. “Associated Students and the Residence Hall Association have been wonderful, as well as KCSB, the film department, and local businesses. We [also] had a Kickstarter account.”
Joe Palladino, the undergraduate advisor for the film department, has also been a great resource to the Reel Loud organizers, whether helping a filmmaker track down a Theremin as a live accompaniment to a sci-fi film, or just doling out general advice. “Joe Palladino is the guy with all the answers, he’s been doing this for 16 years,” said Vahedi.
Palladino noted that the inclusion of Oeddy Bear—a film screened at the first Reel Loud—and John Cloud, a rope twirler who also appeared earlier in Reel Loud’s history, add a sense of nostalgia in this year’s goings-on. “With Oeddy Bear and John Cloud, it’s a very purposeful return to the beginning,” said Palladino.
At the same time, this year’s filmmakers have used the Reel Loud guidelines to create films unique to their own style, and very fresh. Jonathan Reed, the director of the 2011 Reel Loud selection “Lunch,” noted that having to make a silent film forced him to tool around with the form more. “Rather than doing a traditional story, I wanted to do something more visual without relying too much on title cards to tell the story,” Reed said.
Reed’s film is generally lighthearted—a trend for this year’s collection of Reel Loud films, and it plays with viewer expectation. As for how audiences will take his film, Reed simply hopes that viewers will enjoy it. “I hope they find it funny and amusing and appreciate it for what it is,” Reed said.
Aaron LaRue, the director of California!—another Reel Loud 2011selection—also enjoyed working with the silent film format. “I didn’t have a script and I didn’t use actors, I went on a road trip with my friend and we just shot what we thought was interesting,” said LaRue. “It gives the film a unique, kind of spontaneous vibe.” The film, which paints a picture of a California studded by kitschy road markers and natural beauty, attempts to capture a personal take on the Golden State.
“[My friend I] went everywhere from Salvation Mountain in Slab City, which is a shantytown full of nomads, to Hearst Castle in San Simeon to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, and we ended up in San Francisco,” said LaRue.
Like everyone else I talked to, LaRue expressed that the most satisfying culmination of the hard work put in to create Reel Loud 2011 would be an audience: one ready to enjoy both the circus atmosphere and the work of creative people just starting out.
“A lot of people have put in an overwhelming amount of effort to make these films, assemble bands to score them, and organize the event, but it’s almost all in vain unless we get to screen to an audience,” said LaRue. “The audience is what gives it life.”